Tuesday, 17 April 2007

A Village in France

13th April 2007

My Easter travels have taken me from the peat and gritstone of the High Peak, through the clay and chalk of Sussex to sand and wood in south-west France. I have arrived in the vast flatlands of Les Landes where endless vistas of green pine forests, golden dunes and blue sea define the landscape. Different sounds again wake me from my slumbers – the cuckoos echoing in the woods behind us, the trickle of the spring whose rusty residue coats the twigs and leaves which collect in its path around the house. A chainsaw cuts harshly through tree and air, a car passes in the distance, a child shouts, a weak April sun lights up the sky. It is time to get up and explore the day.

The name of the village on the outskirts of which the house stands derives from the occupation of the Celto-Iberians around 800BC. Being of Celtic origin myself, this serendipitous coincidence appeals to me. It is one of the few villages in the area which remains ‘alive’ all year rather than somewhere that only opens its shutters in the summer months. There is a small supermarket which struggles to keep going in the face of larger, cheaper competition; the obligatory boulangerie; a café-cum-restaurant; a small hotel; a school; a pretty 14th century church; a post office; a couple of dress shops; a bric-a-brac and the ubiquitous Mairie. The mayor is a typically pompous individual who, when I politely asked his name, replied unequivocably and with a gallic flush in his voice, “Monsieur le Maire, c’est tout”. OK then. Monsieur le Maire it is.

So Monsieur le Maire presides with plumped up feathers over this tiny dot in the Landes, the second largest ‘departement’ in France. He has a newsletter. He has introduced a new system for the collection of household waste, and he is building new housing for the local people at the end of our lane where once a piece of forest stood. It will change the atmosphere considerably but I know I must not complain as it all helps to keep the village alive and kicking all year round, which is the right order of things. It’s just that I don’t trust Monsieur le Maire further than I can throw him and his pistaccio green jumper…

The couple on their second marriage, six children between them, who run the café-cum-restaurant, are delightful. They’ve breathed new life into the centre of the village with their chairs and tables spilling onto the broad pavement and a very good line in home-cooked food. In Winter the moustachioed Monsieur cooks the sort of vegetable ‘potage’ which is hard to come by these days. His restaurant has become an ‘endroit’ where the locals celebrate birthdays, marriages and other significant family occasions. It is good to see.

Meanwhile, just along the road, opposite the church, the village hotel was bought last year by an elegant Madame with immaculate taste and gently advancing years. She has brought a large dollop of sophistication to this unassuming community, transforming a classic flock-wallpaper hotel into an alluring place to sit and sip an aperitif under a canopy of plane trees.

We drive past all these places on our way to the beach. We have been blessed with early Spring sunshine and the best place to soak it up is down by the Atlantic breakers. A simple lunch of croque-monsieur and salade landaise washed down by a few glasses of chilled rose is followed by playtime on the beach. We walk over soft golden dunes held together by thistle and marram and settle in the lee of the rocks that edge the river where it flows into the ocean. Two girls run off laughing with buckets and spades and grandma; the other, with enviable skill, silently makes her kite dance in the off-shore winds. With the sun warming my back and the sweet scent of pines wafting from the backdrop of forest, I feel at ease with my world and drift gently off into unfettered, post-digestive sleep…ah, the joy of holidays.

9 comments:

lixtroll said...

Hello and welcome aboard - so good to see you here, and congratulations on setting up your amazing page! Haven't had any time to read any blogs yet, but phew, one day . . . it looks beautiful, well done!

Her on the Hill said...

Thanks lixtroll - was so excited to see a comment on my blog! You are too kind. Looking forward to getting to know you better and reading your blogs and having some fun.

lixtroll said...

Phew, I was so glad when everything was still here this morning, I can tell you! Yes, I am sure there is plenty of fun up ahead.

countrymousie said...

Hi - found you at last - hunting round to find my old favourites - well you are all my favourites really. I am more your cartoon element but I made it anyway - probably for the back page somewhere!

KittyB said...

What a lovely blog you've made. Look forward to reading more.

elizabethm said...

lovely blog and everything looking so great! glad to see you here.

Woozle1967 said...

Great to see your blog again!x

annakarenin said...

I see you have brought the Padre with you I really enjoyed reading it last time. Glad it is not lost. The Memories and Village are new to me but equally good to read. You write beautifully.

Her on the Hill said...

Thanks guys, great to hear from you. Set up View from the High Peak blog at end of Feb, BEFORE the ghastly CL debacle began!! (well, for me, at least). I copied over what I'd written so far to CL blog, then copied what I wrote on CL blog to my own blog. You still following at the back there?! Still have a few to pass across - had no time to date. Then I can start afresh, not having to think of the CL village/seasons/country diary theme ALL the time (which seems was irrelevant anyway!!!). Meantime, I can't get onto the purplecoo site at all - Google absolutely NOT letting me in. Will post a comment on the site (only thing it will let me do - can't actually post a post. Christ this is complicated!) to see if someone can help me.

Ta ta for now.

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